In a film fully loaded with bad guys, James Badge Dale is arguably the meanest of the mean in IRON MAN 3 playing Eric Savin, the man who loves to burn and melt things thanks to the power as the right-hand man of Guy Pearce's Aldrich Killian. I've been a great admirer of Dale's work since he popped up as Chase in the third season of Fox's "24," perhaps the bravest man ever to have appeared on that show opposite Keifer Sutherland since Chase actually had the guts to date Jack Bauer's daughter Kim.
A few years later, Dale appeared in a smaller role in THE DEPARTED, the NBC series "The Black Donnelleys," and most triumphantly as one of the leads in the HBO series "The Pacific," and the lead in AMC's underrated series "Rubicon."
Dale considers himself a character actor, but he's one that can carry his own as a lead when given a shot. Check him out as Michael Fassbender's seedy work colleague in SHAME or as part of the ensemble in THE GREY or as the gaunt cancer patient that Denzel Washington meets in the stairwell in FLIGHT. The parts are small but he makes them memorable.
In 2013, Dale has four major productions under his belt, three of them in the summer, including IRON MAN 3. In addition, he plays the brother of THE LONE RANGER, a military man in WORLD WAR Z, and in November, we'll see him play another brother, that of Lee Harvey Oswald. He portrays brother Robert Oswald in a the ensemble drama PARKLAND, which examines the various minor players surrounding the shooting and aftermath of John F. Kennedy's assassination, with a cast that includes Paul Giamatti, Jacki Weaver, Zac Efron, Colin Hanks, Billy Bob Thornton, Mark Duplass, Marcia Gay Harden, Mark Duplass, and Jackie Earl Haley.
Talking to Dale was a real treat. The man is smart, funny, and exceedingly grateful to be in a succession of films this year that will go even further toward putting him on the map. Enjoy…
Capone: Hi James. How are you?
James Badge Dale: Hey, how are you doing?
Capone: Good. Let’s just jump in, since we don’t have that much time here, if that’s all right?
Capone: In IRON MAN 3, you’re in this sea of villains, but you're probably the most villainous. There was a six-year-old kid sitting next to me when I saw it the first time, and the only time he got scared was when you came on the screen. So that’s got to be some sort of a life-fulfilling goal there. How was that for you, to shine as the most evil guy in a movie that’s got several candidates?
JBD: [laughs] Yeah, I’ve been working up to this moment my entire life. I love scaring kids. I love that role. I read that role and… you'd be amazed at the auditions I’ve passed on in the past, because I just felt uncomfortable in the comic book universe. I feel like you only get one foray into the comic book universe, you know? You only get one shot. If you go into the Marvel universe, you’re one character, that’s it, and this is the guy I wanted to play.
Capone: I know you probably wont tell me, but what else were you up for that you passed on at some point in the past?
JBD: Oh, I’m not going to say that. [Laughs]
Capone: So this is technically a character from the comics, but a very different version of the guy. Can you tell me a little bit about getting schooled in the Marvel universe and the character’s history? What was your education like, both as a kid and in preparation for this role?
JBD: My education as a kid was getting beaten up by kids who read comic books, because I didn’t read comic books. So it was a fist to the side of the head, like “Read Iron Man!” And I’d be on the ground holding my nose. For this film, my cousin is actually a huge Iron Man fan and a huge fan of the Marvel universe, and she illustrates and writes comics on her own in her own time and she was my technical advisor. I would call my cousin up every time I had a question, and she would fill me in on who everyone was and what their relationships were and where that came from or this came from. She made a deal with me. She was like, “I’ll help you out, but you have to take me to the premiere.” So three weeks ago she got to meet Robert Downey Jr. at the premiere and she’s not been right since. [laughs] It was beautiful to see her face.
Capone: In terms of the way they handled the Extremis effects, when you were shooting it, was there any kind of representation of what it was going to look like?
JBD: Oh, that’s all me, man. That’s not effects, I glow. I bring that to work.
Capone: So you just burn?
JBD: I’m a hard-working actor, man. I do a lot of preparation.
Capone: That’s one too many energy drinks, right?
JBD: [laughs] That's right. That's five Rockstars, and I’m ready to shoot, come on. That was one of the coolest parts about seeing the film, for me, to see all of the effects, to see what they did with everything. It looks amazing. I was in good hands.
Capone: You always hear from Downey about playing this character, and how he gets to be playful and improvise. Yours is a very serious character, so what did you do to make it enjoyable and not get lost in the gravitas of this evil guy?
JBD: For me, it was a physicality. I wanted to come in with a very specific physicality, so I shaved my head and I showed up to set, and I just wanted to think of the guy like he just fills up rooms, and he wants to just destroy everything in the room; he has that capability. But if I have that physicality, then underneath it, I can just play. Never once in the film do I want to try to be too villainous, try to be a arch, try to be a tough guy. I wanted to come in with the mentality of “What can I do that’s funny and weird and different and interesting? I want to have fun and smile,” because that’s what Downey is doing, that’s what [Jon] Favreau is doing, that’s what Don [Cheadle] is doing, that’s what Gwenyth [Paltrow] is doing. That’s what Guy [Pearce] is doing. You look at Guy and him and Sir Ben [Kingsley]’s performance in the movie; it’s about having fun, and all of these people had a really great time playing these characters.
Capone: You’ve worked with so many extraordinary directors in the last few years. Now with Shane, who’s more known as a writer, but definitely coming into his own as a director, what was it like just working with him? I’ve got to imagine it was a little unconventional.
JBD: Shane’s a very unconventional guy; you'd like him. He’s got a very quick, dark sense of humor and he would come up to me before every take and just whisper in my ear, “Try this out and then say this,” and I’m looking at him and I’m like, “Shane, it kind of scares me that this stuff just comes out of your mind without any preparation whatsoever.” He is uniquely talented and just a wonderful guy. I had a great time working for him.
Capone: From what I’ve read, probably the most swearing that a Marvel movie has ever had on set.
JBD: [Big laugh] I…um…
Capone: I think it’s well documented. I don’t think you’re spilling any secrets by saying something.
JBD: I know, but I just know Shane wanted more [in the movie]. If it were up to Shane, it would have been a lot different [laughs].
Capone: You're playing this character that I think a lot of people going in aren’t even aware exists in this movie, because they’ve kind of kept you hidden before the movie came out.
JBD: Yeah, they were afraid I was going to say something stupid.
Capone: I think it’s cool, because it makes you the real discovery of the film. You are the scariest dude in this movie, and it’s going to be one of the biggest movies of all time. On top of that, you’ve got these other two huge movies coming out before the summer is even done. What’s going to keep you grounded from this point forward? What’s going to keep you from just going, “Okay, someone line up three more huge movies for me for next summer”?
JBD: Where I’m getting lucky here is, on all three of these films, I’m playing three very different characters. I really think people are going to have a hard time recognizing me from one film to the next. Also, I enjoyed coming in and playing these character roles and getting out. These movies are not on my shoulders. I’m part of an ensemble and I come in and do my job. They hire me to do a job to the best of my ability, and I go out and I leave and then I look for the next one. That's my mentality, that’s my mindset. I just want to enjoy this summer, because it is special, and next summer won't be like this. You’ve got to enjoy it while it’s good.
Capone: I’ve been a fan of yours since your "24" days.
JBD: Wow. Right on, man.
Capone: I think "The Pacific" is really when I learned your name, but I just remember liking what you were doing on "24." I remember somebody put out a list about the best secondary characters that "24" ever had, and Chase was right at the top of the list [I'm assuming the list excluded any actor that played the president on that show]. I was like “I agree with that. Chase was a great character.”
JBD: Thanks, man. [Laughs]
Capone: Tell me about being on that show at that time, because that just had to be life changing for an up-and-coming actor at that time.
JBD: Life changing in so many ways. I mean I had just quit working construction three months before that and was doing my first professional paying equity play. The first two weeks I was doing "24," I was still doing the play in New York, and when the understudy wasn’t up, I would fly back to do performances. It was a huge shock in so many ways. It was the third season, and I can’t tell you how much fun I had on that show and the vibe, the cast, the crew, Keifer [Sutherland] was just great. I learned a lot from him professionally and personally, and everything was new and exciting, and the show was doing really well. The show did very well, obviously, it did eight seasons, and they were all good years.
Capone: Chase didn't get killed, right? I can’t remember.
JBD: No, but I lost a hand.
Capone: Right. I knew something weird happened to you. Fox is bringing it back, though You’ve heard this, right?
JBD: I saw that, yeah. They are doing a miniseries.
Capone: You’ve got to come back with a bionic hand orsomething. It will be awesome.
JBD: I think it would be funnier if he just had no hand, and his life has really gone down the pot; he hangs out in a trailer out in Calabasas and works a security checkpoint for road construction crews, and he’s really overweight. [Laughs] He’s just really having problems, man. He’s really lonely. He can’t even meet a girl on the internet, because he can’t type with just one hand.
Capone: He’s an accountant now, that’s it.
JBD: A really bad accountant.
Capone: But he can only count up to five.
JBD: [laughs] Right.
Capone: I want to ask about the two other summer roles that you have. In LONE RANGER you play his brother, right?
Capone: What is the significance of that character in the Lone Ranger’s life?
JBD: I play the older, dirtier, sexier, brother Dan Reid. He’s quite dashing with his handlebar mustache, and then in WORLD WAR Z, I play a very heavily bearded Army ranger.
Capone: With WORLD WAR Z, do you just have your fingers crossed at this point that it just comes out okay, and everyone forgets all of the stories and just takes the movie at face value?
JBD: Let me be honest: I've seen the movie; the movie is awesome! I don’t know what people are talking about. I mean, I read the stories and I’m like “That didn’t happen. What are you talking about?” It’s something to talk about. The only thing is, you hope that people don’t shy away from the theater because they think it’s going to be one way. I saw the movie. The movie looks amazing. It’s awesome. I saw it at 11a.m., and people were literally climbing out of their seats. They were jumping and climbing. Brad is awesome in this film. The movie is big and crazy, and the zombies are some of the nastiest things I’ve ever seen. I know a lot of zombie fans, they shy away from certain thing--“Okay, you can’t do a zombie movie that’s PG-13.” This one works. This one really works.
Capone: And you’ve got this other movie called PARKLAND. What a great perspective on those events. Who do you play in that?
JBD: I play Robert Oswald, who was Lee Harvey Oswald’s older brother. Yeah, a lot of brother roles here. This film all happens in a 48-hour time period and follows about four or five different groups of people, and one of the groups of people is the Oswald family, which is Robert Oswald and his mother, Marguerite Oswald and then Lee, of course.
Lee is played be another New York actor, Jeremy Strong, who is just incredible. He's awesome in this movie. And Marguerite Oswald is played by Jacki Weaver, the amazing, talented, gorgeous Jacki Weaver. I saw that Jacki was signing on and I called the director and was like, “I’ve got to do this man. Let me come in. I want to go to bat with Jacki Weaver.” Marguerite People don’t know this family. They are in for a real shock. It’s some of the most intense writing I’ve ever read and our writer-director Peter Landesman man, he gave us a long leash. We shot with Barry Ackroyd, who is Paul Greengrass’s DP who shoots handheld with a very voyeuristic style. If we do our job and this movie is done right, I think it’s going to be a very special and unique film.
Capone: And they're trying to get that out this year?
JBD: The idea is November, to coincide with the 50 anniversary of JFK’s assassination.